Privacy – What Could Be More Fundamental Than This?

Sam Seaborn:
It’s not about abortion. It’s about the next 20 years. Twenties and thirties, it was the role of government. Fifties and sixties, it was civil rights. The next two decades, it’s gonna be privacy. I’m talking about the Internet. I’m talking about cellphones. I’m talking about health records, and who’s gay and who’s not. And moreover, in a country born on a will to be free, what could be more fundamental than this?
The West Wing — “The Short List”
Story By: Aaron Sorkin & Dee Dee Myers (script here).


I keep thinking about business decisions, and how much impact they have on others.

And I keep thinking about personal decisions, and how much impact they have on others.

And I keep thinking about when to make what public.  But, it may not be up to the company, or the individual, to say…  Not anymore.

Technology keeps moving forward.  What we can do, we seem to do.  And, so, if I can put a message on Facebook, everybody has a chance of seeing it.  And, if someone else has a message about me, a photo of me, a video of me, and if I am famous enough, or important enough, or silly enough, there is a pretty good chance it will spread far and wide.

In the first season of The West Wing, there is a “shoo-in” supreme court appointee who is rejected by President Bartlet because of his understanding of privacy.

The episode first aired in November, 1999, pretty much before any of us had high-speed for the internet, long before Twitter and MySpace were born, quite a few years before Facebook became so omnipresent. The script was written by Dee Dee Myers, and Aaron Sorkin, who recently wrote the screen-play for the movie The Social Network, about Facebook and its founder Mark Zuckerberg.

In the news this week, Facebook’s security was breached, and a whole lot of information about actual people went tumbling out for many to see.

It’s being claimed that some of the most popular applications on Facebook have been transmitting information identifying users.
The company said that it would introduce new technology to limit the security breach.
Facebook developer Mike Vernal blogged: ” We take user privacy seriously. We are dedicated to protecting private user data.”
(Read the story here).

I do realize that I can choose what to post in my Facebook page, and in/on my Tweets.

But in a world where people secretly (and publicly) take pictures, and videos, and put them up for the world to see, it seems that this discussion of privacy from the first season of The West Wing is eerily prescient, and a still unsettled issue of our day.

“What could be more fundamental than this?” asked Sam Seaborn.  It’s a good question.

2 thoughts on “Privacy – What Could Be More Fundamental Than This?

  1. Dani Ticktin Koplik

    Following is my column from last week on just this subject. Look forward to your response.
    Caught in ‘The Social Network’
    Thursday, October 14, 2010
    As a game-changer of the human condition, the development of the internet is, in some ways, similar to the discovery of fire and the splitting of the atom. All three have profound viral capabilities – once seeded or ignited and left unchecked, they take on lives of their own. When their power is respected, they all can have positive, pro-social applications but when they go rogue, the consequences can be disastrous, even deadly.

    Perhaps elevating the internet to the likes of fire and atom splitting overstates the situation. However, the analogy still holds. Unlike fire and nuclear fission, though, it’s important to bear in mind that the internet is only a figurative force of nature, a man-made artifact. This is a critical distinction as we wrestle not only with the raw, seemingly limitless potential of the internet but with its ramifications and limitations as well.

    On the positive side, the internet is a magnificent feat of human imagination and innovation, creating a tectonic shift in how and how fast we’re able to access and consume information. Want breaking news? Click. Need a recipe? Click. Doing research? Click. Want to shop? Click. Looking for a job? Click. Finding a friend? Click. Putting it “out there?” Click, click. And all while we’re at home or at Starbucks.

    As a resource or tool, the internet is without peer. The problem comes when we infuse it with mythic qualities, losing sight of its value as a tool designed to serve us rather than vice versa. The internet can be generous but it is also ravenous, greedily and indiscriminately consuming everything in its path. Further, it’s really a way station, consuming but not digesting, so that what it returns is without context, qualification or caveat

    Enter social media, or in current parlance, The Social Network. Conceived as an online means of extending our social reach, social media is expert at capitalizing on the net’s viral nature. Brilliant, as the race is on to amass as many “friends” and friends-of-friends as possible. Ten friends? Eh. A hundred friends? Better. Seven hundred? Really? Seven hundred of our nearest and dearest.

    The irony is that social media is only superficially “social.” True we can find long lost friends and true we can communicate with our fans in real time but in terms of actual human interaction, of building connections and deepening relationships, something has definitely been lost in translation.

    What exactly have we lost?

    Albert Einstein, who died in 1955, prior to the internet, prior to the information age and even prior to the space program, understood the unbridled power of technology and its impact on the human condition. He was known to have tossed off a bon mot or two and was prescient when he fretted: “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity” and, with some poetic license, our civility.

    Social media, which is an uncontested godsend to the otherwise isolated or disenfranchised, often breaches the most fundamental social boundary – privacy. We’re in an age of all news, all the time – a great benefit when it comes to transparency and accountability in the public or professional sphere. But when the breach happens privately, what was initially viral, can turn malignant. What happened with Tyler Clementi was a travesty and a horrible reminder of how technology can co-opt humanity. If anything good comes of it, let’s hope it’s seen and heeded as a morality tale for our time. There’s no exhausting this theme or this tragedy but, for now, it speaks for itself.

    On a more individual level, social media has crossed over from tool to short cut, with folks relying on it to forge interpersonal relationships virtually. But “virtual” doesn’t cut it when building real connections. When it comes to actual human relationships, face-to-face and high-touch will always reign. Without them, we lose our sense of compassion and humanity, not to mention communication skills and etiquette. If we settle for virtual relationships, we may as well send in the avatars.

    Fortunately, Facebook, the foremost social media app, now claims “it isn’t about computers, it’s about people” and they’re intent on developing social rather than technological solutions.

    Sounds good but, in the end, Facebook is still a commercial venture with vested interests. Cynical? Maybe. But the truth is that social media is a tool and until it’s equipped with a filter, judgment and discretion – qualities that make us human – it’s up to us to set the limits.

    Contact me at dtk@ dtkResources or 201-724-2145.Also, follow me on Facebook, Twitter: @dtkunplugged. and my blog:

  2. Randy Mayeux Post author

    I like this. What you wrote is substantive, and right.

    Have you seen Malcolm Gladwell’s latest essay, Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted ( I blogged about it here: Context, and Confusion – Reflections on Gladwell’s Latest (’s-latest/).

    Social media is a tool – but not a replacement for actual, deeper connection.

    Thanks for sharing.


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